Baby 101: How to Dress a Newborn
Oh Wise Amalah –
I have a ridiculous baby question – this should be an easy one for you. I’m pregnant with my first child (due in March) and as I was registering for cute baby things, I realized that I have no idea how to dress a newborn baby. I’m not kidding. I’ve read plenty of books about being pregnant, I’m signed up for my birthing class and I’m reading up on breast-feeding techniques (yes, I’m a nerd). But, I have no idea what you put on the baby after the diaper goes on. And, I’m talking beyond the onesie here. I live in the Boston-area so it’ll be cold when the bambino arrives.
Do I start with a white body suit and work up to some footed jammies? How many of these items do I realistically need?
Please help me move beyond the diaper.
Thank you very much,
Clueless New Mama in the Northeast
So, as readers of my blog may know, my first baby was big. Big! Nine pounds, 15 ounces. An honest-to-God one-month-old at birth who only got bigger. (I know! Apparently THEY ALL DO THAT.) He was born too big for the “newborn” clothing (generally fits babies up to 8 pounds or so, depending on length), and wore the 0-3 month clothing (up to 12 pounds, thereabouts) for barely a month.
So! This time! I was going to be so! Smart! Second babies tend to be even BIGGER, right? We loaded up on 3-6 month clothing. Oh, did we EVER load up on 3-6 month clothing. I dutifully hung up a few of my first son’s, Noah’s, barely worn 0-3 month sleepers and bought two packages of 0-3 month onesies. I bought one package of newborn onesies and one — ONE!! — pair of newborn footie pajamas. It was his coming-home outfit, since I guessed with a scheduled c-section before my due date there was a slight chance he’d be in the low eight-pound range. We bought ZERO newborn diapers. ZERO.
Aaaaaaand you either know or see where this is going. My second son, Ezra, was seven pounds, seven ounces and was just the wee-est little peanut I’d ever seen. 0-3 month clothing was not just “a little big” on him. It was ENORMOUS. It was like, a DROWNING HAZARD.
I’m telling you all this — even though I know you didn’t even ASK about clothing sizes — because seriously, research and register and obsess all you want, you’re probably going to end up with a lot of the wrong stuff, and are going to be standing in the store four days postpartum buying the right stuff, wondering how the hell you manage to spend nine straight months thinking about baby things and STILL end up screwing it up.
(Let’s also NOT TALK about how screwed up baby sizing even is to begin with, since Ezra is now over 10 pounds and outgrowing the very smallest of the newborn sleepers but just now fitting into other newborn sleepers (Target’s Circo Brand! Is HUUUGE!) for the first time. And yet a 3-6 month outfit from Baby Gap fits him, but so does this other 0-3 month outfit from the SAME STORE. Don’t these clothing manufacturers realize that they are messing with a VERY TIRED, VERY UNSTABLE audience of new parents here?)
A onesie and a footed sleeper/jammie works about 99.999% of the time.
So unfortunately I still can’t really help you with the question of quantity and “how much of this stuff do you REALLY need,” even though I should, seeing as I JUST HAD A BABY and my memory should be pretty fresh. But it’s not, because I either look in Ezra’s closet and see waaaay, waaaaaaaaaay too many clothes that he’ll never wear…or I look in his closet and see rows of bare hangers because he went through every outfit in record time and I have to do laundry AGAIN. Some days you get a lot of spit up and leaky diapers and you change their clothes three or four times. Some days you stop and realize that they’ve been wearing the same sad pair of jammies since yesterday and feel the need to change them on principle. It just freaking depends.
(I can tell you that we went through about one package of newborn diapers a week. About 10 diapers a day. Six weeks later I’d say we’re down to about eight a day. Sorry, planet.)
But! Your main question: dressing a newborn. Some main points:
1. A onesie and a footed sleeper/jammie works about 99.999% of the time.
2. Avoid any clothing that does NOT snap around the legs or easily unzip. (And I’m including sleepers with buttons, or anything that fastens up the back. Totally impossible and annoying. And yet you will get these as gifts from people who either 1) don’t have children, or 2) HATE YOU.) You’ll want to avoid pants for the first couple weeks until the umbilical cord heals.
3. You’ll also have to fight a terrible compulsion to overdress the baby, since they seem so little and vulnerable and naked-newborn-puppy-like. Look to your own outfit, then dress the baby accordingly. If you have a long-sleeve cotton shirt on, but feel like you need a sweater, then you probably want to change the baby’s cotton pajamas and put on some fleece ones, or switch to a long-sleeve undershirt. Likewise, if you feel overheated, chances are your layered-up baby does too. Their little hands and feet always look kind of purple at first, but this is 100% normal and does NOT mean you need to put on two pairs of socks under their pajamas. Likewise, don’t forget that newborns generally like to be kept swaddled up, so the blanket provides a whole other layer of warmth.
4. Venturing outside can be where things get difficult. Personally, I prefer keeping the baby in his normal clothes, adding a hat, and then tucking him into his carseat with a nice warm bunting. (JJ Cole’s Bundle Me is fantastic.) This makes strapping him in much easier, and means less messing and undressing him when we get to our destination. (Carseats put babies to sleep, so I like just unzipping the Bundle Me instead of fretting about him getting overheated in a coat that would require waking him up and pissing him off royally to remove.)
5. If we’re not utilizing the carseat (think stroller or sling or front-carrier), I like a one-piece suit with feet, hand covers and a hood. (AND CROTCH SNAPS.) A bunting bag (no feet) also works, but if you want something that can also work with a carseat or front carrier, these are out. You can go lightweight to hit-the-slopes caliber with these, and again, think about what YOU need to wear in your climate. If you never go out in more than a light jacket, for the love of God don’t put your newborn in a gigantic down snowsuit. Always keep their heads warm, either with a hat or a hood, and it’s usually a good idea to bring a receiving blanket everywhere you go, just in case of wind or rain or a sudden drop in temperature.
6. Oh, let’s see if I can’t make this column even MORE disorganized and random. Footed outfits are really best for a few weeks, since socks rarely actually stay on newborn feet (Noah’s giant feet excluded, of course), but by a month old you may be able to find some that do work. (In the “worthwhile omg cute splurge” department, I’m crazy about the Trumpette line of socks and Hanna Andersson’s sweet Swedish moccasins and BabyLegs.) Don’t even think about buying shoes; Miracle Blankets are the best swaddling devices in the world the hospital hats fit newborn heads better than anything else; some people really love the elastic-bottomed gowns and other people hate them very very much. (I hate them. They don’t keep his feet warm, his socks pull off and the elastic rides up, and most of them have to get pulled on over his head and ooh, both of my babies HAAATE THAAAAT.)
But oh! How it all JUST DEPENDS. Every baby is different, every climate, everybody’s preference for snap- or zip-up sleepers and tolerance for doing laundry. In the end, though, I wouldn’t fret too much about registering for clothes at all.
Baby clothes will come to you whether you register for the pink-striped onesie set or the yellow-polka-dot set. You’ll buy stuff for yourself because you can’t resist it, gifts will arrive in the mail weeks after the baby is born and you already have the same sleeper in two different sizes, a gigantic box of hand-me-downs will mysteriously appear on your husband’s desk at work. (Happened to us, only make it THREE gigantic boxes, oh my God.)
And then you’ll stay home for those first few weeks with the heat cranked all the way up so you can keep your baby dressed in nothing but a plain white onesie because babies look soooooooo cute dressed in nothing but plain white onesies.
Published December 1, 2008.
Last updated March 27, 2018.